TL;DR

1. Most writing is difficult. And only a small subset of it is easy. Writing for digital content or digital advertising is usually grouped into the “difficult” category.
2. In the “easy” category is most personal emails and social posts. You know your friends, and they’re a receptive audience.
3. With today’s programmatic advertising, your audience will likely be highly targeted and already predisposed to what you’re selling. You therefore need to assume that they’re at least interested in what you’re selling.
4. If you know the audience you’re writing to and they’re likely to be interested, it should be as easy as writing a personal email.
5. But be careful you don’t write to impress. No one cares how elegant your turn of phrases are.
6. And after you’ve written copy, sit on it, and read it after awhile. Then show to your intended audience.

Five steps to writing effective digital copy.

by Herman Cheng

There are many things that can be very difficult to write—haikus, investigative exposés and doctoral dissertations, for instance. Writing digital content or digital copywriting can be one of them. But it doesn’t have to be.

1. Approach your copy like you would with the ‘easy’ type of digital writing 

Let’s take a look first at a form of digital writing that we’d all agree is pretty easy: So remember the last time you sent a text or emailed a friend? Or the last time you posted a message on WeChat, Instagram or Facebook? You may have paused a few minutes, reviewed what you wrote a few times. But over all, it was probably a breeze. You intuitively adjusted your writing based on what you thought would appeal to the one person, or group you were writing to. And because you knew your audience, you weren’t afraid to say the wrong thing.

That’s the trick: You don’t need to write to impress (in fact, you shouldn’t). What you do need to do is:

  1. Have an incredibly clear picture of whom you’re writing to. The clearer the picture, the more specific that audience is, the easier it will be to write it. The ease of writing is proportional to the specificity of your audience.
  2. Assume they’re receptive to what you’ve got to say. This is particularly necessary for copywriting.

2. Research your audience first and know them by heart

Of course, the million-dollar question is: Who is your target audience? David Ogilvy would say you need to know how that person thinks, what that person needs. Don’t write a word until you figure that out first. Many of the greatest copywriters in the world have no problem writing because they know their audience by heart before they start. And if you have more than one, pick one and commit yourself to it.

Once you’ve made your decision, be very careful not to talk down to them. Your audience may be hard core Star Wars fans in the United States or casual families in China. For the former, you need to get straight to the point. For the latter, some set-up may be required, but don’t over-explain or you’ll lose them. You can be writing about the same product or service, but you’d need to use completely different words depending on who you think you’re selling it to.

3. Assume that audience is receptive

This may be controversial, but it's essential to our process. Remember, you only have a few seconds to grab someone’s attention. So unless you’re writing long-form copy, you don’t have the luxury of finding common ground with an indifferent or hostile audience. You’re also not writing a TV commercial or copy for a large billboard—you could be writing for Amazon, Facebook or your website. With the advent of digital marketing and programmatic advertising, your ads can now be highly targeted, down to the niche audience you’re reaching to. Your target audience are people who are most likely predisposed to what you have to offer.

4. Give your copy time to breath. Never, ever write to impress

Last of all, after you’ve written something, sit on it for a day or two. Ideally, you would have forgotten you even wrote it in the first place. If the words are still fresh in your mind, that means you don’t have enough distance. Never be too precious. You may have agonized over a few sentences or words, or struggled over structure or word order. But that exercise defeats the purpose of digital writing.

Remember, the reaction you want from your readers is interest and engagement in your brand, not admiration of your copy. Your target audience doesn’t care how good a writer you are. So waiting a day for things to cool off will allow you to give it at least a little bit of distance. More importantly, you may have missed important selling points that might actually mean something to your audience in favor of arguments that you sound good to yourself.

5. And finally, see if they like it.

This last point is very important: find the one or two people who fits your audience and see what they think. Getting feedback can bring closure to your writing, so you won't think of it as an interminable process. It's like handing off your assignment to your client, since they’re the ones who ultimately you’re writing for.

This exercise will help you visualize your audience as a specific person rather than an amorphous mass of people. They’ll tell you if they’re confused by your jargon or arguments, consider your writing unhelpful or unappealing, or give feedback on what points they feel are extraneous.

If you know what you’re writing will be shown to a specific customer in a week. If they’re interested, you may have to just go back to the drawing board. Trust me—you’ll find your motivation then.

Writing for digital

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